If you or a close family member has sustained serious harm as a result of medical negligence or malpractice, it’s important to know your legal rights.
We’ve answered frequently asked questions so that you have a better idea how to progress with a medical negligence or malpractice claim.
What is medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice is improper or negligent treatment of a patient by a doctor, nurse or any other healthcare professional.
It can involve an act, such as administering the wrong type of medicine, or an omission – for example, if a doctor fails to request the necessary special tests or investigations to diagnose a condition correctly.
Who deals with medical negligence cases?
Unless the parties involved agree to a settlement, a medical negligence claim will be heard and decided by the courts.
Medical malpractice is a complex area of personal injury law. If you may have a claim, it’s important to use the services of a suitably experienced medical malpractice attorney. This is a specialist personal injury lawyer who’s able to work with medical experts, analyse medical records, perform medical research and set up independent medical examinations in support of each case.
How do I claim for medical malpractice?
If you may have a claim, we advise you to collect as much supporting evidence as you can. Make a written record of your injuries or ailments, take photographs and request copies of your medical records and files.
Once you have accumulated as much information as you can, we recommend that you contact a firm of personal injury lawyers that specialises in medical malpractice, such as DSC Attorneys.
What is the HPCSA?
The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is the regulating authority for health professionals and hospitals in the country. It sets standards for all registered healthcare practitioners, and investigates complaints lodged by patients.
If a health care practitioner is found guilty of negligent or unethical conduct, the medical disciplinary committee can reprimand, suspend or de-register the doctor, or issue a fine.
If you are unhappy with the way you have been treated in hospital or by an HPCSA-registered healthcare provider, you can download and fill in a complaints form online. The HPCSA disciplinary process does not affect a legal claim for injuries or damages arising from medical negligence or malpractice.
How long do I have to file a medical malpractice claim?
You usually have a period of three years from the time of the incident in which to claim damages for medical negligence or malpractice. However, there are exceptions to the rule, especially when it comes to cases involving minors. We strongly advise you to consult a suitably qualified attorney if you may have a claim.
Can I claim for wrong diagnosis?
Yes, but you will need the expert opinion of an independent medical practitioner with the right qualifications and experience to assess negligence if your claim is to succeed.
The medical malpractice team at DSC Attorneys has access to highly qualified healthcare professionals who can provide expert opinions for legal purposes.
Can I sue a hospital for negligence?
Yes, provided the negligent party is an employee of the hospital; for example a nurse, medical technician or support worker.
Doctors, specialists like anaesthetists and surgeons are generally independent contractors. They may be held liable for damages caused by negligence or malpractice in their personal capacity.
Can I claim for a family member who died because of medical malpractice?
Yes. This constitutes a wrongful death and medical malpractice claim. It involves a complex legal process that requires expert advice.
In addition to proving that the wrongful death was caused by negligence, the claimant has to prove that remaining family members have suffered loss of financial support and/or emotional or psychological damage.
How long can a medical malpractice claim take to be resolved?
Instituting a medical malpractice claim is a multi-step process that involves collecting medical records and other evidence, obtaining expert opinions, drafting and issuing a summons and negotiating a settlement or proceeding with a trial. A typical claim will in all probability take a minimum of three to five years to finalise, sometimes longer if it is particularly complex or has to proceed to trial.
How do I find a good medical malpractice attorney?
Ensure that your attorney is suitably qualified and experienced in handling claims similar to yours, and has a proven track record of successful claims.